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Popularly known as Coco Chanel, she was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in the small city of Saumur, France.
She was born out of wedlock, to destitute parents, and at the age of twelve, her 33-year-old mother died of malnutrition and overwork. Shortly after Coco's father abandoned her and her brothers and sisters. The children were then left in the care of relatives. She would become one of the most influential figures in haute couture in the 20th century, helping to create what is considered modern Fashion today. The House of Chanel in Paris, under Karl Lagerfeld, remains one of the top design houses today.
Two of her most famous creations are the Chanel No. 5 perfume, still a classic fragrance today, and the Chanel suit, actually a whole look for women: an elegant outfit with boxy lines, made of pastel pink wool with black trim and gold buttons, worn with large costume-pearl necklaces.
The nickname Coco was evidently acquired at La Rotonde, a cafe frequented by members of a French cavalry regiment and numerous of the great artists who flocked to Paris' Montparnasse section at the turn of the 20th century. She was set up in business by a lover, Etienne Balsan, a textile heir, and her affairs with the artist Paul Iribe, the 2nd Duke of Westminster, Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia, and British sportsman Boy Capel all had a considerable influence on the stylistic evolution of her often male-inspired fashions. The only affair that didn't seem to spur her creativity was one she had with a Nazi officer during World War II.